Government withdraws support for transformative business group GFirst LEP

Powerful business group GFirst LEP, which has won more than £110-million investment into Gloucestershire and left a legacy of successful key infrastructure projects, could be facing the end after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed plans to cut all funding from April 2024.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
Gloucestershire could be saying goodbye to GFirst LEP next year, after the Spring Budget 2023 revealed plans for its functions to be carried out by local government instead.

After more than a decade providing leadership to the county and winning more than £100 million to fund transformative projects, the end looks to be close for Gloucestershire’s local enterprise partnership.

When Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his Spring Budget 2023 on Wednesday 15 March, he also announced the news GFirst LEP feared – that the government would cut the funding pot on which it relies and has been so successful in applying to for the county for more than 10 years.

Hunt said: ‘The government intends for the functions of local enterprise partnerships to be delivered by local government in the future. Therefore, the government is minded to withdraw central government support for LEPs from April 2024.'

The move has been met with deep disappointment by the Gloucestershire LEP, whose small paid-for team and larger group of volunteer business people has been a catalyst in lifting crucial investment projects out of local politics, to successfully deliver key infrastructure developments in the county over the last 10 years.

It was the government itself that acknowledged the value of GFirst LEP's role in steering the county through the Covid-19 pandemic, with the business group becoming a voice of leadership at the time – delivering positive news of investment projects as Gloucestershire locals looked for signs of economic hope.

Ruth Dooley, GFirst LEP chairwoman and partner at Hazlewoods LLP, said: ‘Ironically, this announcement came on the exact same day that all seven local authorities in Gloucestershire unanimously agreed to continue to support the excellent work of GFirst LEP and to continue match funding it for a further 12-month period.

‘This news is even more disappointing following five years of reviews and multiple letters from ministers expressing their appreciation for our work.

‘We are immensely proud of what GFirst LEP has achieved in the county, successfully bidding for over £113 million of funding for new infrastructure – creating one of the best Growth Hub networks in the country; the Transport Hub in Gloucester; the AccXel Centre in Cinderford; investments at Gloucestershire Airport; Hartpury University and Hartpury Collegethe Royal Agricultural University; the Elmbridge Court roundabout; Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud; and so many more right across the county.

'As the independent business voice for Gloucestershire, we have no other agenda besides helping our county be the very best place to live and work. This includes generating inward investment opportunities, flying the flag for Gloucestershire on the international stage, providing business support through The Growth Hub, supporting education and skills development and championing our local food and drink producers through Made in Gloucestershire.'

GFirst LEP says it is now focusing on ensuring a smooth transition over to Gloucestershire County Council to continue its important work. 

However, there's still some hope for the Gloucestershire LEP – with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Business and Trade due to consult on Hunt's proposals before confirming a decision.

The government is expected to publish an updated policy position to confirm its next steps by summer 2023.

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